Raindrops speckled the surface of the muddy water in the river. The river’s height was high today, a result of the storm that had unleashed torrential amounts of rain in the last 24 hours.
Dave stood under the overhang of the park’s Public Restroom building scanning the curtain of rain and calculating its duration.
Paul stepped out of the Men’s room and stood beside Dave. “Whaddaya think?”
“Rain or no rain, we’re going to get wet anyway,” Dave said.
“I’m up for it if you are. I think that it’s gonna stop by mid-morning, Noon for sure.”
“Sounds about right.”
“We need to watch out for the debris that washed downhill overnight,” Paul said. “The amount of mud in the water tells me that something has broken loose overnight.”
“Maybe a beaver dam.”
“Yeah. That or some trees that finally gave it up and tumbled in.”
Dave noticed that the rain had gradually turned into a light mist. “Did I ever tell you the story about how I learned the Eskimo Roll?”
“No, I don’t remember hearing this one.”
“Well, I’m in my training class, first day, and we were in the river, sitting in our kayaks, the instructor is standing in the water and he says, “Now that you have the basics of getting in the kayak and using the paddles I am going to show you what to do when you flip upside down. The emphasis here is on when, because you will flip over many times and you need to know how to upright yourselves using the Eskimo Roll. You will practice this technique until it is as natural as breathing.’ “
“This guy sounds like my guide back East,” Paul said.
“I think that they all go to the same school, they all sound alike—Preparation Prevents Panic, etc., all that stuff. So anyway, we practice for an hour or so, the six of us, and then when the instructor is satisfied with our skills we go out of the cove and into the river channel.”
“Was your Pucker-factor high at this point?”
“Lets just say it was elevated. So, we are floating along, paddling here and there, enjoying the whole Merrily-merrily-merrily-Life-is-such-a-Dream experience when our guide says, ‘Let’s practice our Roll out here on the open river.’ “
“So, one by one we roll upside down, rotate the paddle parallel with the boat, reach out and pull/push, hip check=upright, right?”
“When executed properly, yes,” Paul said.
“Well, here’s the thing. When it was my turn I rolled into the water and while I was upside down the current carried me into a submerged boulder.”
“Yeah, I smashed into it with my forehead and it stunned me. I mean, it hit my Pause Button for sure.”
“Unbelievable. Did the instructor get you up?”
“No, that’s the weird part. My training kicked in and like he said, it was as natural as breathing—I completed the Eskimo Roll before the conscious thought was complete in my head.”
“That is a good teacher, man. You were fortunate to be in his class.”
Dave stepped out from the under the overhang and looked up at the faint trace of blue showing through the gray mist. “Let’s get the kayaks and get in the water, whaddaya say?”
“Let’s do it.”
Raindrops speckled the surface of the muddy water in the puddles of the Funeral Home parking lot. We gathered to pay our respects to the memory of Dave and to extend love and comfort to his family.
I saw Paul standing alone under the overhang of the entrance to the mortuary. I walked up and embraced his trembling body. “Hey, Paul. It is good to see you, how are you holding up?”
“I’m trying to be strong, but I am a mess inside.”
“It has only been four days. You’ve been through the wringer, man. Thank God you we’re there with him.”
“I, I, I was no use…I didn’t save him.”
“You were downstream and around a bend, out of sight.”
“I shouldn’t have been, I should have been right there with him. You know, just in case. Just in case something like this happened.”
I looked around for somewhere more private where we could continue talking. An un-used Valet station off to the side of our location would be perfect. “Step over here with me, please.”
Paul took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes and blew his nose. His watery red eyes threatened to overflow their sockets.
“Paul, you were both doing what you loved to do. In all the times that you guys went kayaking together did you ever get separated?”
“Well, yeah but…”
“But nothing. Neither one of you knew that this was going to happen. Am I right?”
“No more buts. They won’t bring Dave back and they won’t give you any peace.”
“You’re right. Dammit all anyway.” Paul said.
“Look here, the Coroner said that when Dave hit the boulder and flipped over, the river carried him so far into the submerged tree that no one could have helped him. It was too deep, the current was too swift and there was no way for anyone in a boat to get sufficient leverage and get him out in time.”
“Paul, a helicopter crew had to lower someone in a basket in order to get his body out. You were in front of him anyway, there was no way for you to paddle upstream in that current. Unless you are really Clark Kent, there was nothing, absolutely nothing that you could do to save him.”
The corner of Paul’s mouth turned into half a smile. ”Did you know that he used to call me Super-Yak?”
“Because you are always running your mouth?”
“No, well yeah, that and because I had more experience and training than him.” Paul started to tremble and sob.
I put my arms around him and squeezed. “It’s all right, brother. We know how much you loved him and he knew it, too.”
“I’m just so sorry. So, so sorry.”
“You were there for him at the end. We could be saying goodbye to both of you today, but we aren’t.”
I handed Paul a small box of tissues. He wiped his eyes and stared at the falling rain as it turned puddles into pools of muddy water.